The Ultimate Guide To Transportation in Italy
Italy is a small country packed with adventures. With so many historic cities, incredible food, and gorgeous beaches – you’re going to want to take in all that Italy has to offer. How do you accomplish getting to each of your destinations though when your tip is probably a max of two weeks? By planning out and being flexible with your transportation in Italy.
In reality, you won’t be able to see everything – but by being flexible and prepared, you can see A LOT. First things first – if you’re an American – be prepared for a little bit of culture shock. It’s normal and encouraged to use public transportation in most of the world. It’s not typical for Europeans to drive their cars everywhere and it’s not the most efficient use of your time either. We used over 7 different kinds of transportation in Italy and each one was necessary to make the most of our trip!
The Best Airport To Fly Into Italy
When you start planning out your trip to Italy, the first transportation you’ll have to consider is how you’re going to get into the country. If you coming from Europe, you have the option to take a train or drive. If you’re coming from further away you’re probably going to be flying.
Your two best options for flying into Italy are The Leonardo da Vinci/Rome Fiumicino Airport and the Milan Malpensa Airport. Both are the most popular international airports and have the option to take trains and taxis into the cities that surround them. Not all airports in Italy have those options! Some are more difficult to arrange transport from and may not be best for an Italy first-timer.
When we flew into Italy, we chose the Rome Fiumicino Airport because we wanted to start our trip and end it in Rome. The Milan Malpensa airport is almost the furthest North airport you can be in Italy. It’s a great option if you’re thinking about starting your trip around Lake Como etc.
Where you’re going after you land should be the biggest consideration when choosing what airport you want to fly into. Both of these airports will have similar options for renting cars and transportation when you’re ready to start your adventures.
Renting A Car In Italy
This is probably the number one question people ask: should I rent a car in Italy? If you’re comfortable driving in bigger US cities, you’ll have no trouble renting a car in Italy. Public transportation is often the fastest way to get around Italy. (Not to mention the easiest way to commute between the bigger cities like Florence, Rome, and Venice!) If you’re planning on venturing away from the bigger cities, having a car can make getting to those lesser-known destinations more easily accessible.
Requirements To Rent A Car In Italy: Over the age of 21, a credit card for damage deposits, and the ability to read signs. You can get an international license through your insurance company typically, but at the time we went we didn’t have one. It was never an issue – but driving in the EU as a foreigner is no joke! Be prepared!
Ev rented our car and drove most of the time while I (Shelbs) navigated. We had things we wanted to do and see – and for portions of our trip where trains weren’t available nearby. It was the best option for us! Just make sure that it works for you and you’re totally comfortable before renting the car!
Tips For Driving A Car In Italy
One thing to note is that cars are small in Italy! You’ll have to make sure you’re not packing too heavy because if so – you’re stuff won’t fit!
- We highly recommend paying to pick the car up in one place and drop it off in another. It’s more expensive that way – but you’re much less limited in terms of timing.
- There are tolls on every highway and cameras. You’ll want to carry small bills for the tolls and make sure you’re paying attention to all signs. We received a couple of tickets when we returned home for speeding etc. because we got caught by cameras. (Oops!!) P.S. You will get tickets sent to you in the US because the rental company has your information on file!
- You’ll pay much more to rent an automatic transmission car than a manual. (You seriously need to learn how to drive a manual car before traveling! Almost everywhere in the world drives primarily manual cars over automatic cars. Not to mention that renting a manual transmission is much cheaper!)
- Don’t ever leave anything in your car and always purchase travel insurance to cover the cost of anything that may be stolen. Sometimes it’s unnavoidable that you need to leave something in the car. Just remeber that places like Naples are known for theives! Arranging transportaion in Italy, (or any foreign country) can be difficult – but so is not having a passport! Always make sure to take your time and double check what you’re doing.
- Don’t just park anywhere like the Italians! Find the right kind of parking lot or be prepared to get towed. (There are signs everywhere -you can’t miss them!)
**Driving your own car: If you’re from a neighboring country, you do need to get an international driving permit if you’re not from the EU. Make sure you read all requirements for what you need to keep in your car!
Travel Around Italy By Train
As Americans, traveling by train was by far one of the most fascinating experiences for us. We’ve been on subways that will take you a couple of blocks – but we really don’t have a functioning long-distance public train system the way they do in Europe.
During our trip, we took a few different types of trains. Certainly the fastest form of travel – we were able to transverse the entire country, on a high-speed train, within a few hours to vacation in different regions. (We would love to be able to do that in the US! Can you imagine hopping on a train and being in Sedona, Oregon, or New York from wherever?!)
Almost all trains are operated by two companies: Trenitalia and Italo. While they are the most reliable form of transportation in the country – remember that there are delays sometimes. We ended up waiting for 3 hours for our train to Florence – so flexibility is key!
Helpful Tips For Taking a Train
If you decide to purchase cell service in Italy, the ProntoTreno app can be helpful to keep track of your trains, but Trenitalia also has its own app now!
- Trenetalia/Frecce Trains: These are the highspeed trains that will take you across the country. Typically Eurorail and Interrail passes are accepted. If you’re only on holiday for two weeks in Europe – it makes the most sense to buy your train tickets as needed. To give you an example of cost: From Rome to Venice is around 50 euros, with the total trip time being under 4 hours. (4 hours is pretty fast! These trains travel at around 300km/h which is a pretty cool experience. They’re also surpisingly comfortable for being one of the most popular forms of transportation in Italy? American subways etc., are not comforabtle!)
- Regional Trains and Intercity Trains: These are much slower and operate more like a typical subway would. (These aren’t as nice and definitely had a slight smell to them!) You can purhcase these tickets at any kiosk by the regional train station.
Now for a few realistic pointers to effectively travel Italy by train. First and foremost, make sure you get all of your tickets validated before taking your train ride! Failure to do so can result in heavy fines. There are validation kiosks all around the train stations to stamp them. Secondly, if you’re taking a high-speed train – make sure you buy your tickets in advance. Even though the trains can be late, you’ll want to make sure you get the best deals by purchasing ahead of time.
How To Take A Bus In Italy
One of the easiest inter-city modes of travel around Italy is to hop on a bus. The places we took the buses the most were on the Amalfi Coast. When traveling on Italy’s Amalfi coast, you’ll quickly realize that all the cities like Positano, Amalfi, Ravello, etc. are stacked on top of one another. Those romantic pictures of colorful buildings up the hillside? A total nightmare to try and drive through.
We took the bus down from Ravello to Amalfi before switching transportation to get to Positano. (Yes – before we even reached our destination for the day – we had taken two different forms of transportation!)
City buses tend to be really cheap – with most intercity bus fares costing us less than 2 Euros per ride. You can purchase bus tickets in bulk or as needed at bus stations at different points around Italian cities. They’re also very self-explanatory with bus schedules clearly printed to take you wherever you want to go!
Boat Transportation In Italy
Remember us saying we took two different forms of transportation in a day to get to where we were going? Day trips by boat and ferry are common ways to travel around Italy. During one portion of our trip – we stayed in Ravello but wanted to spend the day in Positano. (We found a really great Airbnb there with incredible views!) So our day started with a 10-minute walk to the bus stop, a bus ride down to the Amalfi coastline, and then into a ferry. The entire journey to Positano’s beach took us less than an hour, (including a stop for a piece of cake #akaItalianBreakfast)!
To take the ferry, we purchased tickets the day before from a kiosk. Ferry tickets, like bus tickets, are one of those times in planning your transportation in Italy when you can be super flexible. We didn’t need to buy our tickets ahead of time, we’re just type-A personalities, and the ferry from Amalfi to Positano was about 30 minutes. Taking the ferry is so much faster than trying to drive or take a bus! While on the ferry, you’ll get to see incredible views of the Amalfi coast from the ferry!
- Visiting Sardinia and Sicily: In order to visit the two largest islands in Italy – you’ll most likely take an overnight ferry or the hydrofoil. Do a quick internet search for the transporation options from where you’re staying and get your tickets in advance for these two islands!
Boat Tours in Italy
Boat day-trip tours are also incredibly common! When you just want to see Capri or Ischia – a day boat tour operator will pick you up from your hotel in some cases, and then take you on a gentle tour through the Mediterranean. This was probably one of our favorite days! We got to see the rugged coastlines and crystal blue waters before spending a relaxing afternoon in Capri. To book one of these, simply type in ‘boat tours to Capri from ‘Your Location’ – and you’ll find plenty of options. (Keep in mind you’ll want to be staying near the coast – and you’ll want to book these tours in advance!)
**When we booked a boat tour to Capri, we were hoping to see the Blue Grotto. This was included as part of our day trip experience but it didn’t end up working out. Watch the tide schedule and look for a ‘low-tide’ tour time for your best chances of actually seeing this incredible place! Even without it – the tour was amazing – but we definitely could’ve planned that part better.
Riding A Vespa In Italy
First things first: you have to wear your helmet in Italy. We’ve seen too many travelers getting pulled over because they didn’t wear it and the fines are hefty!
So how do you go about renting a Vespa? You’ll need a credit card for a damage deposit, and everyone riding has to have a driver’s license. P.S. Vespas aren’t built for long-term travel and are best in cities or on Italy’s smaller islands. If you’re renting one – make sure you know where you’re going and how to get back!
One of our absolute favorite days was in the Tuscan countryside weaving through the hilly roads and tall pines. It was warm in the sun and felt like we were having our very own Lizzie McGuire moment while zipping from vineyard to vineyard. Definitely an experience we can’t recommend enough.. you never know what you’ll find around the corner in Italy!
A few other places you might consider a Vespa are Positano, Amalfi, and Rome. We could see all of these cities not only being fun to drive in – but perfectly scenic as well!
How To Get Around Venice, Italy
Transportation in Venice is a special case. Unlike the rest of the country, there aren’t buses, cars or trains in the city.
For starters, there are only a few ways to get to Venice. You can ride a train to a number of train stations right outside Venice, with connections to trains on the main Island itself, but that’s about as far as public transportation goes here. What we did was drive to our Airbnb outside the city and ride a bus into Venice for the day. (You can also have a privately chartered boat bring you to Venice from the neighboring parts of Italy!)
***As of 2021 – cruise ships are no longer allowed to enter the canals. We’re not sure how this will affect travelers wanting to see Venice but we’re assuming there will still be options to see it by bus from cruise ship ports.**
If you’re wondering how to get around Venice after getting to the island – you have two options. You can walk or you can ride on a boat. The island is only 3 miles by 2 miles in size and 100% walkable. You have the opportunity to see almost everything Venice has to offer in a day!
- Buying a Vaporetto Pass: If you’re going to be in Venice for a few days – there are also water taxis you can take! Venice is amde up of 120 isalnds and those can be hard to transverse. Get the schedules and buy passes at veneziaunica.it.
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Riding Gondolas In Venice
You’ve probably seen glamorous photos of people gliding along the canals and wondered how you could do it too? The great news is now that cruise ships are no longer allowed in Venice’s canals – and you’ll have more chances to book a ride. We think even during peak season you’ll have more opportunities – which can be really hard to book!
So how do you charter a gondola ride? You actually walk up to the Gondola Service Station next to Doge’s Palace on the South Eastern side of Venice – and book a ride. Typically around 80 Euros a person, and up to groups of up to six people, you and your whole family can take a ride!
STORYTIME: We took an evening gondola ride (which is a little more expensive) and we were so excited to set off on our trip through the romantic canals. However, on this romantic evening ride – WE. FELL. ASLEEP. We kid you not – we literally took a 20-minute snooze as the gondolier deftly steered the boat through the waterways. (Just lets you know how calming the experience was I guess?) So note to self: if you decide to take an evening ride – grab a cappuccino before you go!
Walking The Cities of Italy
Most of the time it probably seems like a no-brainer that while in cities you’ll do some walking. Traveling through Europe though is nothing like you’ll experience in the US. There are apartment buildings in Rome older than the United States as a country. Let that sink in.
Not to mention that while you’re walking the cities – you’re taking in so many more sights sounds and smells! You can’t get those things if you’re in a cab. Of all the memories we made there – these were some of our favorites.
The little gelato shop that only costs about 3 Euros that you’ll definitely never find again? Finding mini Limoncello bottles and drinking them next to the Trevi Fountain while laughing with your friends? You can only do that while you’re walking in Rome in the evening… after it rains, you’re exhausted and definitely a little sweaty. We can’t stress it enough – walk the city and do what the locals do!
P.S. It’s part of Italian culture to be out really late. We’re talking every night until around 1 AM – people are out socializing. Little kids, the elderly – it’s very much a community atmosphere! Don’t be intimidated by the idea of walking – just make sure you’re keeping your wits about you!
The Best App For Walking Italy
We highly recommend downloading the Maps.Me app. Not only are the maps incredibly accurate – being able to use them off-grid means you don’t have to worry about needing cell phone service. We traveled our entire Italy trip with this app and Wifi only! Check out our guide for Tres Trapi Aruba on exactly how to use this awesome app!! (Available for iPhone and Androids.)
Things To Keep In Mind
Before you book your flights – take note of when you’ll be traveling! Direct flights are available from a few different countries including the US and UK, but if you’re planning to travel around a major holiday – transportation could prove difficult! Italy has a heavy Catholic population so on Sundays and public holidays, getting a bus, train, etc could be really frustrating.
You’ll also want to remember to download these helpful navigation apps before you go!
- Maps.Me – The best offline navigation app.
- Google Translate – If you dont speak Italian (we don’t), we did our absolute best to figure things out!
- ProntoTreno / Trenitalia – The best way to track the status of your trains.
- wifi.italia.it – Find free wifi across Italy to help you with all of your planning!
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Until next time friends,
Man, I would love to travel to Italy! It seems like such a beautiful place, and I feel much better prepared after reading this post lol.
Having been to Italy a couple of times, it is fun to think, “Hey, I’ve don’t that!” I love Italy by train. The U.S. could learn a thing or two about high speed trains!
We are planning a 10-day trip to Italy in September to show Rome and Venice to our son–so this is so helpful. We traveled by train when we were there years ago, and I absolutely agree that they are one of the best ways to travel. And again, you are so right…if only in America.
I love train travel in Europe as I feel like it’s such an easy way to get around! But after reading your post you’ve convinced me that renting a car for my next trip might be the best choice! I love how much freedom it allows, and that I’d be able to visit so many places. So good to know to have cash available for tolls.